On Dec. 21, 2021, the Ball family from Winston-Salem, North Carolina, received devastating news: their son Maxx had Ewing sarcoma, a rare form of bone cancer that typically occurs in children and young adults.
Maxx’s wish: As he battled the potentially life-threatening disease, 10-year-old Maxx, whose cancer is now in remission, had one wish: to travel to Wisconsin to learn about the cheese-making process.
- “Most kids choose Disney World or a trip to Hawaii, but not my son,” said his mom Lauren. “He loves cheese and all things dairy, so he wanted to come to Wisconsin.”
From wish to reality: The Make-A-Wish Foundation contacted Plymouth, Wisconsin–based Sargento—a leading manufacturer of shredded, sliced and snack natural cheese products—which was thrilled to grant Maxx’s wish.
- Sargento has been a longtime supporter of the Make-A-Wish Foundation, partnering with other local businesses on an annual golf-related fundraiser that provides substantial support for Make-A-Wish Wisconsin.
- Sargento’s Executive Vice President of Operations and third-generation family owner, Mike McEvoy, has also served on the board of Make-A-Wish Wisconsin.
The itinerary: After arriving in Madison the Friday before Thanksgiving, Maxx and his family visited the Center for Dairy Research at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. He also met Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers, visited the Wisconsin State Capitol building, checked out the House on the Rock and then traveled to Green Bay to tour Lambeau Field. But the final day of his Dairyland tour was a stop at Sargento’s new location: Baker Cheese in St. Cloud, Wisconsin.
The visit: Sargento General Manager Brian Baker and Master Cheese Maker Jeff LeBeau provided a tour of the facility and explained the cheese-making process in detail. Maxx helped with making cheese curds, learned the documentation process and even operated one of the facility’s computer systems.
- “On our tour, he kept saying, ‘This is awesome,’” said Baker. ‘It really put Thanksgiving into perspective. They are a wonderful family, and what he’s gone through, to be here and to be so engaged and on the other side of his diagnosis, shows what’s really important.’”
The last word: “It was a great day, and it was a pleasure to help make Maxx’s wish come true,” said Sargento Vice President of Human Resources and Community Relations Karen Lepisto.
Photo: Sargento Master Cheese Maker Jeff LeBeau describes the cheese-making process to Maxx, who grabbed a sample to test the pH levels. (Credit: Sargento Foods)